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Monday, May 27, 2024
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Student protestor at TPUSA event released on bail

Tensions between organizers and students remain

<p>Finn O&#x27;Brien &#x27;27, wearing a transgender pride flag, descended to the floor of Willet to challenge Grossman, interrupting Thursday&#x27;s guest lecture. According to videos posted later by event organizers and TPUSA memebers on X (formerly Twitter), the student pushed Grossman, and was escorted out by Mercer Police. O&#x27;Brien has been charged with simple battery.</p>

Finn O'Brien '27, wearing a transgender pride flag, descended to the floor of Willet to challenge Grossman, interrupting Thursday's guest lecture. According to videos posted later by event organizers and TPUSA memebers on X (formerly Twitter), the student pushed Grossman, and was escorted out by Mercer Police. O'Brien has been charged with simple battery.

Protesting and Arrests

Mercer Students for Justice in Palestine (MSJP) organized a protest of a guest lecture by Turning Point USA (TPUSA) speaker Jennifer Grossman on Thursday. The lecture was sponsored by TPUSA and Mercer's Center for Economics and Liberty. A student identified as Finn O'Brien '27 was photographed in handcuffs outside of Willet Auditorium that night, and he has been charged with simple battery, according to an incident report from MerPo.

O'Brien was just released on a few hundred dollars bail ealier this evening. MSJP started a GoFundMe and promoted it on social media to help in trying to raise the funds.

O'Brien interrupted Grossman about 15 minutes into the presentation, when he accused Grossman of being a “Zionist.” Grossman replied that she was a “proud Zionist” as the student walked down the steps of the auditorium. O'Brien was followed across the floor by Grossman as he shouted out the death toll of Gazans since conflict broke out in the Gaza Strip last October.

O'Brien also said that Grossman, as senior vice president at the Dole Food Company, was responsible for “paying militias” to harass organized labor groups in the Philippines. Grossman responded, “I paid militias?”

According to the Federalist Society, Grossman was the senior vice president at the Dole Food Company prior to becoming the CEO of Atlas Society, an offshoot of the Ayn Rand institute.

The Dole Food Company has faced lawsuits in the past over unfair and dangerous working environments at farms that supply the company with its products, though it is unclear whether Grossman worked for the company in the midst of those lawsuits.

MerPo was escorted the student out of the room, and placed him under arrest when Grossman and her co-presenter, Rachel Farmer, who officially filed the complaint, listing Grossman as the victim on the police incident report.

Later in the evening, a second student was escorted out of the auditorium by MerPo after interrupting Grossman’s lecture. It is unclear at this time whether the second student will face legal consequences.

In a statement to the Cluster, head of media relations for Mercer, Jennifer Fairfield-Williams wrote, "University administrators are reviewing an interaction between an individual student and a guest speaker at a campus lecture Thursday night, and appropriate action will be taken as warranted. Disrupting and invading the personal space of a speaker is not acceptable. It is our hope this will ultimately prove to be a positive learning experience for the student."

Alex Marshall ‘27 spoke to the room directly following the incident. He encouraged an open, respectful dialogue among groups as Grossman re-entered the room to resume the lecture. In an interview afterward, Marshall explained that he believed the protest “needed to happen.”

Michelle Ndubi ‘26 said that she thought the protesters were brave for what they did and that though they distracted from what Grossman had to say, they brought the crowd’s attention to something they might not have considered otherwise.

When asked about the disruptions to her presentation, Grossman said that she believed the protesters felt “insecure about their own positions and beliefs," and so felt the need to, “Shout down anybody that disagrees with them.”

Grossman’s lecture started off with politically-charged comments about Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, President Joseph R. Biden and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. In a remark about the Kennedy family, Grossman mentioned that Kennedy Jr.'s choice for running mate in his campaign was what she considered “assassination insurance,” wondering aloud why he would want such a thing.

The group Mercer Students for Justice in Palestine was partially behind the protest, and they issued a statement following the lecture, stating support for the queer community and condemning “bigotry and hate speech on Mercer’s campus and around the world.”

The lecture was put on in conjunction with Atlas Society, Turning Point USA and the Leadership Institute. 

The Anti-Defamation League says that Turning Point USA is an organization whose leaders worked to overturn the 2020 presidential election, attacked the transgender community and spread various conspiracy theories.

A representative for Turning Point USA declined to comment.

Social Media and Unsatisfied Students

During the 24 hours since the incident, students have been commenting anonymously on yikyak both for and against the students who protested the event. The GoFundMe link for O'Brien's bail money was posted multiple times.

Both Farmer and Grossman posted on X (formerly Twitter) about the incident. Farmer's post read, "POV your college degree is going nowhere so you protest a @TPUSA event with @JenAnjuGrossman Have fun adding an arrest to your 'college' resume.. ?[clown emoji]."

Charlie Kirk, a prominent speaker and right-wing activist also posted on X, calling the students who protested the event, "Pro-Hamas protestors blocked half of the attendees from this over-booked TPUSA event at @MercerYou from getting in, and then another activist wrapped in a Trans Flag assaulted @TheAtlas Society CEO Jennifer Grossman inside as she was attemtping to get him to leave. Two of these radicals were arrested outside. Good."

While the posts were not necessarily facutally correct, they garnered typical support. Kirk is famous for his rage-bait content on YouTube where he has arguments, debates, and conversations with students across college campuses, similar to other right-wing influencers like Stephen Crowder.

Many students on YikYak were disappointed that Mercer decided to host the TPUSA event, but there was also an increased dissatisfaction with how they have handled the incident in the following day.

Gabriel Kopp

Gabriel Kopp '26 is majoring in Journalism and Law and Public Policy at Mercer University. He has written for The Cluster since he started at Mercer, and currently works as the Sports Editor. When he isn't studying, he enjoys going for runs and reading the New York Times.

Henry Keating

Henry Keating '24 is a Journalism and History student at Mercer. He has worked at The Cluster as SGA correspondent, State and Local News Editor, Managing Editor and now as the Editor-in-Chief. Henry has held internships at the Macon Newsroom, Macon Telegraph, and Greenville Post and Courier. He enjoys backpacking, rom-coms, pottery and photography.

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